Preview: USWNT Takes On Colombia in Round of 16

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By MC Bousquette
USWNT Beat Writer

Monday night marks the beginning of the knockout rounds for the United States as they take on Colombia.

Colombia looks to avenge each of their prior matches against the United States, in which the US twice emerged victorious 3-0. The US, in turn, enters the match to prove that they can be an offensively successful side.

They Both have everything to prove, and everything to lose.

The Competition:

Colombia is a feisty squad, boasting a dangerous and aggressive offense. Striker Lady Andrade, alongside midfielders Diana Ospina and Yoreli Rincon, provide the thrust of the Colombian attack; they compose a creative and very physical Colombian front, which threw the otherwise high-performing French side for a loop as Colombia defeated France 2-0.

The absence of Colombian starting keeper, Sandra Sepulveda, is a tremendous disadvantage to the already defensively weak side. As they did against France, Las Cafeteras will rely heavily on charging the opposition’s half in order to deflect pressure off their own defense.  The US back line will need to play in top form to repel Colombia’s advances.

Projected US Starting Lineup:
Screen Shot 2015-06-22 at 12.02.02 AMForwards
: Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach.

Morgan contributed 65 minutes of meaningful play against Nigeria, as she appeared much more in form than in the previous two matches. Her creativity and technical ability will be key in putting the US on the scoreboard, and it is essential for her to build minutes as the US gets even deeper into the tournament.

Ellis will use Wambach to try and batter Colombia deep in the box, as she may view Wambach’s goal against Nigeria as validation that Wambach should continue to start rather than serve as an impact sub. An in-form Wambach would pose a huge threat to an inexperienced keeper, although her failure to produce results for each of her many opportunities to do so is less than encouraging.

Depending on Wambach’s stamina, Ellis may insert Christen Press in her place – Press’ speed and agility would compliment Morgan well up top. Amy Rodriguez and Sydney Leroux are also available to give Morgan and Wambach relief, although both have been quiet in World Cup appearances so far.

Midfield: Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, Lauren Holiday, and Tobin Heath.

Unless Ellis surprises by shifting from her favored 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3, Holiday and Lloyd will be forced to flail at central midfield yet again. Against Colombia, this pair will probably be stuck back to reinforce the back line, as the wings take on the pressure of being the only playmaking midfielders.

Rapinoe and Heath will have to work overtime to create chances and penetrate the Colombian box, especially as Lloyd and Holiday remain deep. Expect to see Rapinoe provide service deep into the box, searching for header goals. Both she and Heath have the tools to technically beat the Colombian defense, either taking shots themselves or dishing to the forwards.
Alternately, Ellis could give Heather O’Reilly a shot at midfield, either at the start or in the second half to gauge her effectiveness. While unlikely, Ellis might keep O’Reilly on standby in case Heath or Rapinoe appear ineffective.

Defense: Meghan Klingenberg, Julie Johnston, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Ali Krieger.

The back line continues to be the best part of the US side, and will need to remain the same against Colombia; the Colombians will seek to play an aggressively offensive match. In addition, look for more playmaking action than in previous matches from the defenders, as the US makes an effort to batter a Colombian defense weakened by the loss of Sepulveda. Against Nigeria, Johnston and Krieger were most notable in this dual role, and will likely be feeding balls in and taking chances themselves again against Colombia. Sauerbrunn and Klingenberg will simultaneously have to continue the near-miraculous defensive work that has kept the US in the tournament.

Depending on the score, Christie Rampone and Kelley O’Hara may make appearances in the second half to give members of the back line rest, while simultaneously garnering minutes for themselves to provide options in future tournament play.

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Michael Chow/USA Today

Goalkeeper: Hope Solo. Solo will surely start against Colombia, as she continues a streak of strong play in goal. Neither she nor the US squad appear to be distracted by any of the ongoing media storylines surrounding her domestic violence case, and it’s largely unimaginable that this will start to be a distraction at this juncture. She will be key against the aggressive Colombian offense.

The… Drama?

Apparently, Colombia feels slighted by the USWNT. Andrade, who sucker punched Abby Wambach in the face during the 2012 Olympics, is publicly very bitter about the US side. “They belittle us. They think we’re a team they’re going to walk all over and it will be an easy game for them… We’re going to beat them since they like to talk so much.”

The US responded the next day, as Coach Jill Ellis expressed her confusion in response; “I would ask what have we said that is belittling? What I know about this team is they’re classy, they like to fight with their feet. So I can’t imagine our players acting like that.”

Alex Morgan echoed Ellis, stating, “We never started that or said anything in the media.”

Even so, Colombian midfielder Yoreli Rincon attempted again to elicit a response from the US on Sunday, “They are clearly taller than us, more athletic, but they don’t have the heart we Colombians have.”

Despite this bizarre exchange, there is no apparent evidence anywhere to substantiate Colombia’s claims that the USWNT has said anything negative about Colombia. When asked to specify just what it was that the US may have said, Rincon answered with a vague reference to the 2012 incident, “they said all sort of things because one of the players unfortunately got smacked.”

Abby Wambach herself weighed in, sharing “Quite honestly, it’s the last time I thought about it. It’s part of sport. I am a person that doesn’t focus on what happened three years ago. If you are still living in those moments, that’s not the way I would want to live a life. I’ve moved past it, our team has moved past it.”

While what Colombia is referencing may never be clear, it certainly has provided an interesting undercurrent leading up to kickoff.

The Bottom Line:

Defeating Colombia won’t be a walk in the park for the US; the intense Colombian attack will test the US back line, and may well again expose the hole at central midfield. To prosper through this experience, the US will need to creatively penetrate and convert in the Colombian final third. With a relatively low chance of upset, this match is, ultimately, a test for the ability of the US offense to synthesize and produce results.
The United States faces Colombia on Monday, June 22nd at 8pm EST in Edmonton (FOX Sports 1, FOX Sports Go, NBC Universo)